Montana News

Dec 23, 2013 7:56 PM by MTN News - Sanjay Talwani

Waiting time data released for some Montana emergency departments

People with medical emergencies sometimes find they have to wait for a while in an emergency room to get treated.

In Montana, that average wait is 25 minutes, just faster that the national average of 28 minutes.

Non-profit news site ProPublica crunched the numbers from a year's worth of federal Medicare data.

It found Benefis Health System had Montana's longest average wait, at 55 minutes.

Among larger hospitals, Kalispell Regional Medical Center saw patients the most quickly, in an average of just 8 minutes.

Karen Ogden, chief communications officer for Benefis, said there's wide variability in the way ER wait times are reported by hospitals.

For example, she said, the time it takes a patient to see a physician is based on when the physician opens the patient's chart. In the case of critical patients the doctor sees the patient immediately, but won't open his or her chart until later.

"We believe that delayed documentation is a factor in these statistics,"
she said in an email.

She said Benefis has one of the nation's fastest "door-to-balloon" times
-- 61 minutes, compared with a national goal of 90 minutes -- referring to the time from when heart attack patients enter the facility to the time they receive a catheterization procedure.
"Our most critical patients are receiving immediate, life-saving care,"
Ogden wrote. "However, we understand that prompt ER care is important to all of our patients, and we're working hard to improve our internal processes to shorten wait times."
Benefis also recently expanded patient capacity and hours in its walk-in clinic, she said.

ProPublica has information on hospitals throughout the nation at a site called ER Wait Watcher -- http://projects.propublica.org/emergency/.

The Montana findinga are at
http://projects.propublica.org/emergency/state/MT

Among the findings in Montana:

Patients spent an average of two hours and seven minutes in the ER, slightly less than the mational average of two hours and 18 minutes.
Central Montana Medical Center in Lewistown had the fastest turnaround at one hour and 25 minutes. Bozeman Deaconess had the longest ER stays at two hours and 45 minutes.

Another measure examined by ProPublica was the time it took to administer pain medications for patients with broken bones. Montanans received the pain-killers 49 minutes after entering the emergency departments, on average, compared with a national average of 60 minutes.

Central Montana Medical Center again reported the quickest response at just 20 minutes, with Benefis the slowest reported time at one hour and
10 minutes.

ProPublica says that the numbers are just averages and that anyone wanting to know the expected ER wait at a given hospital should give it a call.

The data does not inlcude many of Montana's smaller facilities.

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